We love you all very much and are praying that we’ll be able to see one another other face to face as soon as possible (1 Thessalonians 3.10). As we seek God in this season and also hear from you about how you’re doing, we’re working hard to formulate ministry plans for Fall 2020. We already see God working in marvelous, surprising ways during this difficult and unusual time. We’re hearing stories of people in our congregation on gospel mission in their neighborhoods and on their jobs and with their families. Our congregation continues to rally around those who are sick and grieving, and to gather (in person and online) for regular, weekly worship. Coronavirus is not stopping our gospel words and gospel works. Take heart! We serve a Savior bigger than any problem. He magnifies his name even through difficult times. He will win great glory through the tough and terrible circumstances in which we’re all living.
We’re writing to express our love for you and also to clarify what we’re asking from each of you during this time, since there’s been some confusion. That’s not unusual in the time of coronavirus, with lots of uncertainties and lots of communications going around, but we apologize if we haven’t been clear. Please pray for us as we make and communicate decisions, that these decisions will help to keep us as a church radically focused on Christ, unified, free from fear, and filled with love for one another and those all around us.
As Elders, we take seriously our God-given spiritual authority to lead, as well as our accountability to God for shepherding the flock well (Hebrews 13.17). In the Bible, the authority of Elders can properly be exercised in various ways. Sometimes authority is best exercised through a command that must be obeyed by those called to submit. At other times, authority is better exercised through persuasion and appeal. Both kinds of authority are found in the New Testament: Paul’s apostolic authority toward Philemon was one of persuasion and appeal (Philemon 8-10). Elsewhere we see Paul using his authority both to command (1 Corinthians 7.12, 25) and not to command (1 Corinthians 7.6).
Here are a few things that we as Elders are requiring of our congregation in this time. If you choose to attend an in-person worship service at PCF, we require that you wear a facemask at all times while in the building, that you maintain social distance, that you not come if you have a fever or illness, and that you can assure us you’ve not knowingly been in contact with someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19. Our decision to mandate these things follows the directives of health professionals and our state government, and we’re doing so in order to protect our congregation and the broader community for the sake of love. We’re also seeking to ensure that anyone who chooses to join us in person on Sunday mornings will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.
There are also some things that we as Elders are advising but not requiring. We are not requiring those who are 65+ and/or with prior health conditions to absent themselves from in-person services. Out of loving concern, we have ‘strongly advised’ folks in these categories to act in accordance with the Massachusetts ‘Safer-at-Home Advisory.’ But we have intentionally not commanded or required compliance with the Safer-at-Home Advisory (it is, after all, an ‘advisory’). On this matter, we have felt it important to leave room for individuals to make the choice as to whether they attend in person or not, and whether they’re willing to take the calculated risk of coming. Some of our PCF members in these categories have been desperate for gathered worship (we’re so glad they feel this way, rather than being apathetic about gathering in person with God’s people). They have come to our gathered, in-person services and we have welcomed them. We love them. Their decision to attend is not a repudiation of the Elders’ authority or an act of disobedience, because we have intentionally left room for them to make the decision to come.
In our minds, the following three sentences fit together without contradiction:
- We love you and miss you very much
- If you’re 65+ and/or with previous health conditions, we believe it’s wise for you to observe the Massachusetts Safer-At-Home Advisory and continue to livestream our services on a weekly basis
- If you’re 65+ and/or with previous health conditions, and you decide that it’s important for you to come and participate in in-person worship, we will welcome you and rejoice to see you face to face. We will trust that you have given these matters prayerful consideration and made a wise, Spirit-filled decision that is best for you
Please know of our continuing prayers for you. We long for you to walk closely with Jesus and not to drift spiritually in this season. Please continue to read your Bible, connect with other Christians, and worship weekly with us, in person or over the livestream. We need each other and we need God. He is at work.
The PCF Elders